New seasons bring new hope, and few are more thankful for that than Giants fans. 2021 was a forgettable failure that necessitated a regime change. Brian Daboll, a former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator, was hired to revive Daniel Jones and a lifeless offense.
However, in a savvy move by a first-year head coach, another highly regarded and respected coordinator was hired to improve a defense that ranked in the league’s bottom half. Don “Wink” Martindale brings a familiar attacking 3-4 over from a Baltimore organization built on defense. Despite struggling as a unit in 2021, this Giant’s defense has added talent in recent drafts. With Martindale’s addition and top-5 selection, Kayvon Thibodeaux, we should expect better from Big Blue’s defense in 2022.
OLB | Kayvon Thibodeaux
As a highly regarded 5-star prospect, Thibodeaux excelled for the Ducks, registering 19 sacks in a little over two years of collegiate playing time. His rare blend of speed, flexibility, and power enticed the Giants enough to select him fifth overall in the most recent draft. Playing in New York brings big expectations and exposure, but Thibodeaux has the skillset to make good on his draft day price. Expectations should be high in the fantasy community as well.
Thibodeaux has dealt with hip and other lower body ailments throughout the draft process. However, all reports are that he’s healthy and excelling in training camp, and starting snaps are all but assured so long as Kayvon is healthy. He has the talent and opportunity to win defensive rookie of the year. Depending on your league platform, Thibodeaux may have DL eligibility. Treat him as an LB3 or DL3 early in the season, with the upside to quickly outperform that assessment.
ILB | Blake Martinez
Coming off a lost season due to an ACL tear, Martinez will look to regain his hold as the Giants tackle leader. He is participating fully in training camp and appears to be back to full speed. Before 2021, Martinez had four consecutive seasons of 140+ tackles. While his best days may be behind him, at only 28 years old, Martinez is still in line to be an impactful IDP asset. He has a solid LB2 floor if he can remain healthy.
OLB | Azeez Ojulari
One of the 2021 bright spots, Ojulari, showed the speed and explosiveness that made him a second-round selection a year ago. Registering eight sacks as a rookie is no small accomplishment, and with the addition of Thibodeaux, Ojulari may not get the extra attention his skillset deserves. He finished LB67 in 2021 but has starting upside in the coming season. Like Thibodeaux, Ojulari likely has both LB and DL eligibility on different platforms. Good upside depth, with a moderately high ceiling over the next several seasons.
ILB | Tae Crowder
As a stand-in for Blake Martinez, Crowder racked up 130 tackles in 2021 and is still in the position to start for New York. Rookie linebackers Darian Beavers and Micah McFadden offer little early competition for snaps. Crowder should be able to follow up with similar stats. Capable of filling byes and starting occasionally, he should be treated as a cheap, depth, and year-to-year asset as New York looks to add more talented players to this defense over time.
DT | Dexter Lawrence
Lawrence is the case of an exceptionally gifted and ascending real-world player with very little fantasy utility outside of DT-required leagues. I wanted to note him here because of the way he helps the fantasy assets around him. His size requires constant double teams, leaving LBs free. His ability to push the pocket makes two speed-based edge players like Thibodeaux and Ojulari extra potent. Lawrence plays enough snaps to be considered in a bye week pinch but can be left on waivers in most deeper leagues.
DE | Leonard Williams
Few 3-4 defensive ends put up stats like Williams. The former Jet and USC standout has recorded 18 sacks over the last two seasons for the Giants and will be in a position to make it a third straight productive campaign. After finishing as DE10 last season and still locked into a contract with New York through 2023, Williams can be safely considered a DL2 moving forward.
S | Xavier McKinney
McKinney is coming off an exceptional sophomore season. Showcasing the ball skills that made him highly coveted out of Alabama, McKinney was around the ball a lot last season, recording five interceptions and ten pass breakups. He also exceeded 90 tackles, good enough to make him DB14 on the season. The upside for DB1, overall, is within the range of outcomes for McKinney in the coming seasons. If it hasn’t already happened, a breakout is coming.
S | Julian Love
A fourth-round selection in 2019, Love stood in the second half of the season for an injured Jabrill Peppers in 2020 and performed admirably. With Peppers healthy again in 2021, Love was a backup and special teamer. However, both Peppers and Logan Ryan have departed via free agency, and Love slides back into the starting safety spot opposite Xavier McKinney. While I wouldn’t want to depend on Love as a starter, he’s available in most dynasty IDP leagues and could offer free value for teams needing DB help. Check your waivers.
Let’s take a couple of swings at some players further down the Giant’s depth chart. Length and positional versatility made Senior Bowl standout Elerson Smith an appealing prospect in 2021. I’m still curious to see if anything becomes of the Northern Iowa product after a year of development.
I mentioned rookies McFadden and Beavers earlier as no threat to Crowder in 2022. However, either could challenge for a starting job next season and, in deep enough leagues, are worth watch list status in the event Martinez cannot remain healthy.
While the Giants starters are primarily sorted, the cornerback position is not. Sophomore corner Aaron Robinson and third-round rookie Cor’Dale Flott are fighting for the second outside corner spot and could find themselves heavily targeted in 2022. In CB-required leagues, both should be rostered until we see how the snaps are distributed.
While 2021 was one to forget for Giant fans, it did not come without some silver lining. The front five performed well and, with the addition of Thibodeaux, can be considered amongst the best groups in the league. An unmistakable defensive identity can be cemented around that strength and help make the holes at cornerback and linebacker less noticeable. Daboll and Martindale are top-notch hires, and New York appears to be headed in the right direction again.
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